The Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals took a memorable tour of the U.S. Naval Academy before engaging in one last inconsequential baseball game prior to opening day.
Playing within the guarded walls of the academy on Navy's home diamond, the Nationals and Boston played to a 4-4 tie Saturday in a tiny stadium jammed with 1,030 fans — most of them Midshipmen in uniform.
Max Scherzer allowed two runs over five innings for Washington in a game called after nine innings.
For the players and coaches, the most significant part of the day occurred long before Sean J. Stackley, acting Secretary of the Navy, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
The bus tour included a visit to the largest single dormitory in the world — which houses the entire brigade. The most stirring stop was at the site of the honor roll of all academy graduates who have died in military operations.
Nationals center fielder Adam Eaton said he was struck by "the seriousness of it all," noting, "We don't understand the focus that it takes, the structure, the dedication to train and survive with one another and protect the country."
The players dressed in a small locker room at the Navy football stadium before traveling to the ballpark by bus. It was not at all convenient, but Red Sox manager John Farrell considered Annapolis to be a worthwhile detour before the team headed home to face Pittsburgh in Monday's opener.
"One thing I hope our players take from it is, they had an opportunity to see behind the scenes of the Naval Academy," Farrell said. "We knew it was going to be little bit out of the norm, but for a special occasion like this we're certainly flexible. This is a special day for all of us."
It certainly was different. The wall in dead center was 390 feet from the plate, the foul pole in left was at 318 feet and the pole in right stood a mere 300 feet away. Yet no one homered.
The clock on the scoreboard posted military time, and Farrell said he couldn't remember working before so small a crowd.
That, however, wasn't the takeaway from this trip.
"It's amazing just to see what they have to go through to protect our country," Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts said. "Some of us take those things for granted, but to actually get to see it first hand, it makes you appreciate it a lot more."
Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper got into the spirit by wearing a Navy hoodie during warmups, and the curly "W" on Washington's caps had a stars-and-stripes design.
This was the first of three exhibition games the Nationals are to host at Navy through 2019. One tradition likely to continue is the players from both teams mingling together for the tour.
"It was the best thing we could have done," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "This place, if nothing else, reminds you that we're united in a lot of ways besides being in baseball."
SCHERZER PLEASED: After having his spring training preparation hindered by a broken right knuckle, Scherzer feels he's on track to start the season.
"It was nice to face a lineup of their caliber," he said. "I feel like I took a step forward today in terms of getting in the zone."
After the game, the Nationals said they are tweaking their rotation to begin the season, with Scherzer being switched from the third game on Thursday to the fourth on Friday against Philadelphia.
Gio Gonzalez will start on Thursday against Miami.
RENDON'S STATUS: Nationals 3B Anthony Rendon, who fouled a ball off his leg during spring training, was not in Saturday's lineup, and manager Dusty Baker said Rendon is "in question a little bit for opening day."
ROSTER MOVES: Rizzo said his final roster decisions have been made but he would wait until Monday's deadline to announce them. Among those players thought to be on the bubble, RHP Jeremy Guthrie was not with the club Saturday; OF Michael A. Taylor and INF Wilmer Difo were.
UP NEXT: Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg gets his fourth opening day assignment on Monday against visiting Miami.